Monday, 24 February 2014

Reactions to the House of Bishops statement - episode 5

Updated Monday afternoon

Links to Episode 4 and to earlier items here.

Two articles have appeared that deal with the question of what sanctions, if any, are available to the bishops for dealing with those clergy who themselves enter into a same-sex marriage.

At Law & Religion UK David Pocklington asks: Tougher sanctions against clergy who marry same-sex partner?

At Ecclesiastical Law Philip Jones writes at considerable length: Clergy Discipline and Same Sex Marriage: Inappropriate Conduct?

…The obvious legal solution to the pastoral difficulty is to amend the law, and so bring clergy discipline into alignment with the Church’s teaching. This would require new legislation making it a specific ecclesiastical offence for clergy to enter into same sex marriages.

Any amendment of the Clergy Discipline Measure to include such an offence would, of course, require the approval of Parliament, which might not be forthcoming in the present climate of opinion. However, the General Synod has a common law power to legislate by canon, inherited from the Convocations, which does not require parliamentary approval (see Synodical Government Measure 1969)…

Gillan Scott has Unpacking the ‘doublespeak’ of the C of E’s latest statement on same-sex marriage

Two more statements from individual dioceses:

  • Diocese of Guildford (from the Bishop of Dorking) by email (not yet appeared on diocesan website):

You will no doubt have heard through the media news of the Pastoral Letter which the House of Bishops has issued as guidance concerning the Same Sex Marriage Act which comes into force at the end of March this year. Inevitably, the media have highlighted what is seen as the negative outcome rather than the many positive things which the Guidance has to say. The Letter and the accompanying advice contained in the Appendix are available online on the Church of England website. Please read all of it very carefully.

You will notice, and this is what Bishop Christopher and I were keen to point out in our earlier letter to the clergy, that a pastoral response of prayers is encouraged, where appropriate, to gay couples who may enquire about the possibility of some form of service. This would not be any fomal rite or liturgy but, as paragraph 22 of the Appendix states, a ‘more informal kind of prayer, at the request of the couple, might be appropriate in the light of circumstances’. My own view is that this might be best done in the couple’s home.

Yours in Christ

+Ian

Updates

The Bishop of Blackburn has issued this statement:

Statement by the Bishop of Blackburn on the Bishops’ Pastoral Statement – 24.02.14.

(Broadcast on BBC Lancashire Breakfast)

Bishop Julian declined the invitation to take part in the broadcast, but issued the following statement:

“In the light of the sensitive nature of the discussions within the Church, I am reluctant to be drawn in to public discussion at this stage. There are strongly held views in totally opposing directions while the Church seeks to resolve those differences. The two year process of consultation agreed by the Church would be a time to listen to one another and study the Scriptures as together we seek to discover the mind of Christ.”

Fulcrum has issued a statement:

Fulcrum response to the HoB Pastoral Statement on same-sex marriages

Fulcrum is grateful to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the House of Bishops for their careful pastoral letter and statement. It is appropriate that the House of Bishops should uphold the present doctrine of the Church in advance of the facilitated conversations on which assurances have been given that they have no pre determined outcome. They are simply sworn to do that by their office. Any other outcome would have been prejudicial to those conversations taking place. We recognise that their statement is not universally welcomed, but hope that it may create space in which the conversations can begin and end in Christ.

We are also aware that any statement they made was sadly likely to be challenged legally, which will be a costly thing in mission, pastoral emotion, money, and reputation of the whole body of Christ. We hope that others will join with us in praying that our focus for mission as the Church of England may go forward without such distraction; but in doing that we also recognise those of the LGBTI community who will experience most sharply the Bishops’ call for restraint.

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Comments

I am sure that this is meant in good faith. But this: 'My own view is that this might be best done in the couple’s home[,]' is worrying.

Shades of the children of unmarried parents being quietly christened in a church empty of all but the vicar, child and parents.

Or of certain categories of people having to ride at the back of the bus.

Posted by: Sam Roberts on Monday, 24 February 2014 at 8:17am GMT

Sam Roberts really is going too far in suggesting what he does. The Bishops are trying to do the almost impossible job of ensuring that gay couples are treated pastorally in a church which rightly holds on to the traditional understanding of marriage. Gay people can not be married in the Church of England. Fact. Gay people can not be married in the Roman Catholic Church. Fact. Gay people can not be married in the Methodist Church. Fact. Nor in other denominations such as the Orthodox Church. And that is simply because they all hold on to the received Christian understanding of marriage between a man and a woman. Christian gay friends of mine are happy both to acknowledge this and abide by it. And what's more, they are fed up with heterosexual people claiming rights for them that they do not wish for themselves.

Posted by: Benedict on Monday, 24 February 2014 at 9:05am GMT

" My own view is that this might be best done in the couple’s home."

+Dorking has to be joking. Why should it be hidden? Is it shameful? Embarrassing? No. Is it something good, wholesome and to be celebrated? YES. Then do it publicly.

Posted by: Jeremy Pemberton on Monday, 24 February 2014 at 9:42am GMT

Benedict,
that's nice for your Christian friends, but as we've said before, there's a difference between having a right and choosing not to use it, and being refused that same right when you desperately want it.
Yes, people cannot marry in church. Fact.
Yes, we're trying what we can to change that. Fact.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 24 February 2014 at 9:57am GMT

Benedict,

What you say is true. At the moment. But they can in the Society of Friends. And what is at stake here is not, in fact, religious marriage (and that is a moving target, as Linda Woodhead shows), but the attempt by the Church of England to circumscribe the civil right of some of its members to get married legally according to law.

And your gay Christian friends are not the only voices in the marketplace.

Posted by: Jeremy Pemberton on Monday, 24 February 2014 at 10:47am GMT

On the other hand, if 'my own view' is genuinely personal and not prescriptive, there might well be clergy or congregations who felt that such prayers might well be said appropriately in the context of the worship of the community...

Posted by: Tony Phelan on Monday, 24 February 2014 at 11:01am GMT

"this might be best done in the couple's home"
Presumably this would also apply to the blessing of a civil marriage where the couple could not marry in a particular parish because one or both had partners from a previous marriage still living (cf the bishop's statement on the permanent lifelong nature of marrage).If not, why Not?

Posted by: Peter Bostock on Monday, 24 February 2014 at 11:23am GMT

The Bishop of Dorking's wish to confine blessings of gay couples (sorry, it shouldn't be that should it? Blessings of battleships OK, but not civil partnerships ) to the couple's home is both crass and insulting. What does he fear? Pollution of the church? Why should people be pressured to hide their relationship like this? And why should it be assumed that the congregation would not wish to rejoice with them?
Time the bishop got out and met people other than his episcopal colleagues.

Posted by: Helen on Monday, 24 February 2014 at 12:23pm GMT

Well, I'm a gay man, a Christian, and I claim the full membership and rights of the Baptized including marriage and ordination (the latter is not at all likely in my case).

I'm either a full member of the community of the Baptized, or not. Either erase the asterisks, quotation marks, and other qualifiers that make me a little less than a full member or revoke my baptism. Either I am created in God's image, redeemed by Christ, and accepted just as I am in the fullness of my humanity without one plea just like Benedict and all other Christians, or I am not any of those things.

Indeed, there are plenty of good Christians who believe I and my kind should be exterminated. Just ask the Westboro Baptist Church, Scott Lively, and any number of African bishops.

Posted by: FD Blanchard on Monday, 24 February 2014 at 1:09pm GMT

"The Bishops are trying to do the almost impossible job."

I agree with that much.

Of course it is the Bishops themselves who are making their own jobs impossible.

They should get little sympathy for difficulties and absurdities that are entirely self-created.

Posted by: Jeremy on Monday, 24 February 2014 at 1:21pm GMT

However, gay people will be able to marry in Unitarian churches (unless a congregation votes otherwise - always a risk) and the marriage service might even carry some hefty Christian content (or not as the case may be) according to the wishes of the couple. So should gay people wish this for themselves, then it is available. Fact. Equality.

Posted by: Pluralist on Monday, 24 February 2014 at 2:14pm GMT

"in a church which rightly holds on to the traditional understanding of marriage"

How "traditional" is Nick Holtam's marriage? Should bishops be married to women whose husbands are still alive? Oh, I know, that's different.

How "traditional" is Charles Windsor's marriage? Should future Supreme Governors of the Church of England be self-confessed adulterers who have obtained divorces, married to self-confessed adultresses whose husbands are still alive?

It's funny that "traditional" Christians have bibles in which all the stuff Jesus said condemning divorce and remarriage are erased, isn't it?

Posted by: Interested Observer on Monday, 24 February 2014 at 2:41pm GMT

"My own view is that this might best be done in the couple's home." Or maybe the Bishop of Dorking really thinks it might best be done in the couple's closet?

Posted by: Father David on Monday, 24 February 2014 at 3:13pm GMT

It is amusing that these bishops seem to think that having your child christened if you are a gay couple is easy.

I am a gay parent, and I know lots and lots of others. The issue of christenings has come up several times in a busy discussion forum for gay parents I frequent.

It seems that about 50% of approaches to CofE vicars to get our kids christened are rejected. Especially for people who aren't regular church goers (most people).

I don't know how they can expect liberal priests to listen to their instructions on marriage when they let conservative priests ignore them on christenings constantly.

Posted by: CRW on Monday, 24 February 2014 at 3:42pm GMT

"Traditional marriage"

Benedict, you should know better by now. The tradition of the OT with multiple wives? The tradition in NT times with women essentially as chattel? The tradition before divorce was legal and accepted in the church?

The vast majority of Anglican LGBT people I know yearn for equal marriage by the state and the sacrament of marriage in the church. In fact, we have organizations of people devoted to it. I don't see an organized effort by LGBT people in opposition!

The characterization of straight people trying to thrust equality on us LGBT people is really something…

Posted by: Cynthia on Monday, 24 February 2014 at 3:57pm GMT

Traditionally, at least in NT era, marriage was in fact a domestic affair. The church only became involved rather later, and as a "norm" later still. This is just one of the many evolutions in this supposedly uniform "tradition." In fact, nothing has been "handed down" that hasn't been amended, and nothing that has been introduced remains unchanged. From a theological standpoint the ministers of marriage remain the couple, not the vicar.

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Monday, 24 February 2014 at 6:25pm GMT

"It seems that about 50% of approaches to CofE vicars to get our kids christened are rejected…."

I am so sorry to hear this. It is perfectly clear that the bishops give no consideration to children at all. The whole issue is conducted with enormous harshness towards LGBT adults, without any care for its impact on children, be it the children of LGBT families, or LGBT teens suffering bullying, exclusion, depression.

Hopefully the teens are not tuned in to the CoE bishops. From them they would learn that they are not treated as created equally in the image of God, and not loved equally in the eyes of God. Their self esteem would be negatively impacted. It could push some over the edge. LGBT teens will find no comfort and no Good News from the CoE bishops. Very sad.

Posted by: Cynthia on Monday, 24 February 2014 at 6:40pm GMT

Cynthia, whether you like it or not, what I have said is true about my Christian gay friends. They do not wish to see a redefinition of marriage, despite their own sexual orientation. Civil Partnerships suffice in their eyes. So it is not a "characterization" as you put it.

Posted by: Benedict on Monday, 24 February 2014 at 7:55pm GMT

Invisibility and erasure.

It's classic.

And if you analyse the diocesan websites, you will find that there is already huge erasure of LGBT issues. They hardly get a look in.

The idea that a blessing 'at home' is better, begs the question: 'Better for whom?'

If we believe in community, and want all people to feel welcome as members of community, then we don't try to hide away people's precious relationships, they are part of our community, and in the community is where they should be affirmed and loved and received and prayed for.

Erasure has gone on long enough, lesbian and gay people are precious members of Christian community, contributing many gifts. We are all human beings and our tender, devoted relationships are not something to keep discreetly hidden away.

On the contrary, they should be celebrated, and celebrated communally. The general public, and perhaps especially younger people, would be stunned at practices of erasure that render relationships invisible or in some way of less value.

There is no future for a church that discriminates or stigmatises by exclusion or unequal practice.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Monday, 24 February 2014 at 9:06pm GMT

"a ‘more informal kind of prayer, at the request of the couple, might be appropriate in the light of circumstances’. My own view is that this might be best done in the couple’s home"

'Preferably a small room in the home, suitable for hanging coats and what-not.'

Good God...

Posted by: JCF on Monday, 24 February 2014 at 10:47pm GMT

Without the assurance of 'a new disciplinary canon forbidding clergy to enter same sex marriages' (Jones), bishops create a rod for their own backs due to the similarities between civil and ecclesiastical definitions of marriage, despite emphasising their differences. The guidance on penalties issued by the Clergy Discipline Commission give weight to such factors as 'the period of time the misconduct lasted' and 'the greater the harm caused, the more serious the misconduct becomes'. Given its permanent legal status, a respondent is unlikely to show 'remorse and a willingness to learn from past errors' for it would require him or her to put asunder what is a contract till death do part. In no way is this 'offence' comparable with indecent assault or 'adultery within the cleric's area of responsibility', which are the sort of cases CDMs consider.

Therefore the only course of action available to the bishops it seems, if they really are serious about all this, and for consistency across the board, is to request Synod to amend canon law. This would mean taking the unusual step of going against the grain of legislation in this country, and rewind the clock to pre- 1967. Given the quasi-criminal status of CDMs, they would be required to act in a way not unlike courts in some African countries, short of incarceration, and punish victimless 'crimes' between consenting adults. Not likely post-Pilling one hopes.

Posted by: Andrew on Monday, 24 February 2014 at 10:59pm GMT

Benedict, the fact that the gay Christians you happen to know don't want to get married is not a reason for denying marriage to those who do. There are plenty of heterosexual couples who don't want to get married, for all sorts of reasons - "it's just a piece of paper/ a patriarchal institution/ a lot of expense that changes nothing..." Following your logic if we know of straight couples who cohabit rather than marrying we would abolish straight marriage.
Of course there will be gay couples who are quite happy to stay as they are - in civil partnerships or just living together - but there are also those for whom marriage is extremely important. No one is going to force gay couples to marry, any more than we would force straight couples to marry, but to deny the possiblity for those for whom this matters simply because it doesn't to everyone is illogical.

Posted by: Anne2 on Tuesday, 25 February 2014 at 9:47am GMT

This from the Diocese of Guildford's website FAQ:

"What is diocesan policy on gay clergy?
Our policy on gay clergy is the same as that of the national Church."

Er, that's it. Perhaps they don't say what it actually is because they aren't quite sure.

On the other hand, however conservative the Bishop of Dorking may be, the Dean of Guildford is Chair of Inclusive Church.

Posted by: badman on Tuesday, 25 February 2014 at 11:18am GMT

Helen - in the interests of balance, I should probably point out it would be highly irregular to bless a battleship in church as well. It would, at the very least, require a Faculty...

Posted by: tommiaquinas on Tuesday, 25 February 2014 at 11:41am GMT

I believe the Sarum Rite for marriage included, after the nuptial mass, the priest's visit to the couple's home, where the bedroom and marital bed were blessed. But perhaps that was not quite what the bishop had in mind.

Posted by: Savi Hensman on Tuesday, 25 February 2014 at 12:04pm GMT

"On the other hand, however conservative the Bishop of Dorking may be, the Dean of Guildford is Chair of Inclusive Church."

In that case I would be interested to know why the Dean of Guildford appears to have taken the 5th Amendment on this.....

Posted by: Fr Paul on Tuesday, 25 February 2014 at 2:22pm GMT

"Cynthia, whether you like it or not, what I have said is true about my Christian gay friends. They do not wish to see a redefinition of marriage, despite their own sexual orientation. Civil Partnerships suffice in their eyes. So it is not a "characterization" as you put it."

Benedict, when you look at the organized groups advocating for equal marriage, in both society and the church, there are numerous groups loaded with people working for equality. Are there any LGBT groups working against equality?

As for your friends, there are plenty of straight couples who don't subscribe to marriage either, one doesn't use that as an argument for abolishing marriage.

The argument of sheer numbers yearning and working for equality likely puts your friends in a quaint minority. And when we have equal marriage, civil and church, your friends are welcome not to take part. But their minority view is hardly a reason to prevent equality and oppress those who yearn for it.

Posted by: Cynthia on Tuesday, 25 February 2014 at 4:10pm GMT

"My own view is that this might best be done in the couple's home."

Perhaps it would be helpful if the rubrics suggest that the curtains be closed and that the vicar wears sun glasses and enters and leaves via the back door!

Posted by: ian on Tuesday, 25 February 2014 at 6:02pm GMT

Sorry, I should have said pets. And they aren't even faithful and committed to each other.

Posted by: Helen on Tuesday, 25 February 2014 at 8:31pm GMT

And if the couple's home is the vicarage, then presumably the bishop can bless the couple at the same time as delivering one of them their notice to quit!

Posted by: Turbulent priest on Tuesday, 25 February 2014 at 9:59pm GMT

Benedict,

I think you should exercise some reciprocity here. You and people like you have been very well treated by your church and by some of us here on TA. You should understand that this issue is very important for us and cut us a bit of slack, as we have done to you.

Posted by: John on Wednesday, 26 February 2014 at 8:53am GMT

"And if the couple's home is the vicarage, then presumably the bishop can bless the couple at the same time as delivering one of them their notice to quit!"

That would be the pastorally sensitive implementation of point 21 of the statement
"The same approach as commended in the 2005 statement should therefore apply to couples who enter same-sex marriage, on the assumption that any prayer will be accompanied by pastoral discussion of the church’s teaching and their reasons for departing from it. "

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 26 February 2014 at 9:08am GMT

"From a theological standpoint the ministers of marriage remain the couple, not the vicar.

- Posted by: Tobias Haller on Monday -

This, I believe, is also the official Roman Catholic point of view in Christian Marriage.

The couple are the ministers, the priest gives a Blessing.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Wednesday, 26 February 2014 at 9:32am GMT

The various comments about Benedict's Christian gay friends prompt me to make two quite distinct comments.

1. It never ceases to surprise me that so often the people we talk to seem to have similar, or at least complementary views to our own. I am sure I am not alone among parish clergy in remembering countless examples of parishioners expressing a strong opinion on some issue or another, and saying that "everyone I talk to says the same thing". I suppose we all need to talk to more people.

2. Benedict's experience, and that of Erika and others whose respective friends have other views, demonstrate an extraordinary shift that has occurred in the attitudes of LGBTI people in the last decade or so. When my daughter found herself in a committed same-sex relationship some 15 years ago, and wanted to have a service of blessing in her local church (she did, and it was a beautiful service)the opposition from large sections of the church was matched by an equally vehement critique from some of her LGBTI friends. "why do you want to be 'married'? You are just buying into an outdated, patriarchal institution" was a typical rejoinder. Now things are very different, in New Zealand as well as in the UK, and gay ands folk are pressing hard for what we are now calling "equal marriage" - and rightly so in my opinion.
I am making no criticism of that change in opinion, merely noting that it is occurring, and noting also that there is a wide range of opinion among LGBTI people, as with any large sector sector of society.

Posted by: Edward Prebble on Wednesday, 26 February 2014 at 8:54pm GMT

Fr Smith and Brother Tobias,

Clearly, in the history of sacramental marriage, the priest we present only as the church's witness, to which has been added the gloss of the Nuptial Blessing. However, well into the Middle Ages, marriages took place in the home with friends present, "benefit of clergy" being regarded as an option. In the families of the privileged where the institutional church had a vested interest in assisting the wealthy to ensure that their wealth went where they wanted it to go, witness of vows by a priest was an essential add-on. Poor people were seldom married in a church because since the church had no financial interest in the affairs of poor people.

Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC on Wednesday, 26 February 2014 at 10:36pm GMT

Yes, exactly so, Mr. Berry. The church's involvement in marriage (in the West, at least) came about largely due to concerns about clandestinity and publicity. In England this took the form of publishing banns, and the circumstances surrounding Lord Hardwicke's Act, which did away with the old common law marriage and gave the church a peculiar authority.

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Friday, 28 February 2014 at 6:51pm GMT

I wish to say one more word: I am sick to death of clergy and other Christians who can admit that they find plenty that is abhorrent in the Bronze Age legal-moral code couched in the Book of Leviticus. Nevertheless, they're entirely willing to pluck one discrete provision of that code (a provision which obviously has nothing to do with people who actually fall in love with one another) and demand that this one provision be used to (continue to) wreck the standing of countless lives, couples and households both inside and outside the church. Many such lives, couples and households have contributed and continue to contribute inestimably to the life of the church. To persist in this foolishness is incomprehensible. To allow ourselves to be bullied by bishops in societies and cultures that have no critical self-consciousness about the origins of their own bastardized Victorian mores is mind-blowing.

Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC on Saturday, 1 March 2014 at 11:38am GMT
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